The other day I went to see Darkest Hour, the movie about Winston Churchill’s heroics in the spring of 1940 in steeling the British upper classes to resist Hitler and to relieve Dunkirk by sending off a civilian armada to rescue the British army from the Nazis. The hour was very dark indeed.
Aware as you might be of my aversion to movies, allow me to astound you further. This was not the first time I went to see Darkest Hour. It was the second time! I might see it again.
The cinematography was stupendous. Parliament, Churchill’s war rooms, Buckingham Palace, and Chartwell — the Churchill home, also billows of cigar smoke, tumblers of scotch, and snatches of the great man’s oratory. Not one actor or actress in the movie was a dud. As a matter of fact, everyone was exceptional. It was as though the British movie industry summoned its very best talent to prove to the Yanks how inferior they really are at the thespian art.
Of all the actors the one playing Winston Churchill, Gary Oldman, was the best. He might have surpassed even the real Winston. Lily James who played Churchill’s typists Elizabeth Layton was marvelous, as was Stephen Dillane who played the loathsome Lord Halifax. But when I get started naming names I feel the impulse to add another and another and before you know it I will have named the entire cast. Suffice to say, I have not seen a movie that lavished so much talent on screen perhaps ever. Possibly I shall have to end my boycott.
I urge you to go. You will see Churchill at his best or at least one of his best moments. Of course there had to be some phony scenes thrown in. There is a scene in the London subway that surely never took place. In it Winston appears in a subway car on his way to Westminster, and the passengers, all commoners, urge him never to surrender. Actually the official biographer of Churchill, Martin Gilbert, reminded me before he died of an incident that captured the scene’s spirit and had the added benefit of actually occurring in 1940.
Winston was walking from Admiralty House across Horse Guards to a gate that leads to Number 10. A group of construction workers saw him and cheered. Winston became very agitated and could not unlock the gate. His aide, I believe it was Anthony Eden, asked him why he was so troubled. The new Prime Minister answered with tears in his eyes, “Because I can’t help them.” His darkest hour was that dark.
Even if you rarely go to the movies go to this one.